We Have a Long Way to Go

“Are you being Agile, or are you just lazy?”

Those words were written on the whiteboard at tonight’s CMP (Change Management Professionals) meet-up in Melbourne.

“I saw some person just go up to the team’s board and change their priorities without talking to someone!”

That was one of the comments from someone at the Agile Coaching Circles meet-up in Melbourne I attended last night.

I suppose the Agile crowd will see the first phrase, and say, “how stupid are you??? YOU JUST DON’T GET AGILE!!”.

I also suppose the change community will see the second phrase and say, “what’s wrong with that, we’re BEING AGILE!!!”

The problem is, none of this is helping us move our organizations forward.

agile != Agile

Much of the confusion around “agile”, from tonights meet-up was the difference between the definition of the word ‘agile’ and Agile as it relates to the values, principles, mindset, toolset, and methodologies that fall within the universe of big A, Agile. Emma Sharrock kicked off with re-iterating the impressions people in the CMP group had before the meet-up:


Emma did a fan-tas-tic job of gently introducing Agile, including typical ceremonies, planning poker, how estimating typically works and more. Then it happened.

Someone brought up #NoEstimates.

An immediate repulsion emanated from the group…”WE CAN’T NOT ESTIMATE!!!!!”

How else should they have reacted? Remember, the room was filled with people who’ve had Agile forced on them and haven’t figured out what it means to them. They only see teams in their environments doing whatever the hell they want. They are learning Agile from seeing really bad discipline and behaviour.

Some dysfunctions they mentioned included teams only focusing on sprint to sprint work, and not considering business readiness, or implementation impact.

How exactly is a group of people supposed to have the same level of understanding of a complex topic like #NoEstimates without having a basic understanding of relative estimates?

Yet what we do in the Agile community is tell them they’re stupid, and they don’t get it.

Not helpful.

By the end of our discussion, including stories from myself and another Agile practitioner who was there, they seemed to have unlocked the thought that the ‘Agile’ they are seeing, is not what Agile really is. Forget the mindset, and ‘being Agile’ bullshit, they’re seeing teams acting in an irresponsible way probably because the teams finally have had the organizational shackles lifted and they feel a sense of freedom for a change.

Much of the discussion revolved around trying to apply to figure out how Agile fits into their existing structure, hierarchy and processes. For example, how do we make our change documentation agile? Of course, the Agile stance is, question why you have that documentation and stop doing it if it isn’t useful or serves a purpose. Unfortunately, the reaction from most Agile folks is to roll their eyes about how stupid that sounds.

Again, not helpful!

What was amazing with this group was there were multiple perspectives and experiences with Agile despite only having 2 or 3 ‘agile people’ in the room. To me, there was a whiff of curiosity that emerged after the frustrations were aired.

7 years ago I wrote this post about whether or not we should be estimating bugs. I came to the conclusion we shouldn’t because we’d be double-dipping our estimates.

2-year-ago-Jason tells 7-year-ago-Jason, “that’s stupid, you just don’t get Agile!”

Today’s Jason tells 7-year-ago-Jason, “let’s chat about what it is about estimates that is important to your organization and explore alternatives.

SAFe Can Be a Bridge

At the Agile meet-up, one of my slides included a wise-crack about SAFe, and any Agile scaling framework really.

Of course, everyone laughed.

But no one laughed when I said that scaling frameworks could be a good thing if used as a bridge. People who know very little about Agile see that SAFe diagram and think, “yeah, I could see how that could work in my organization

Maybe they’ll standardize it, maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll implement parts of SAFe and things will be a little bit better. Maybe that’s good enough for them.

Maybe they’ll try it and a few key influencers will see how they can stop being so prescriptive. Maybe they’ll then convince the people in the organization there is a better way and over years they become a learning organization that is ‘being Agile

The point is, it’s not your decision as the Agile coach. Your job is to question your customer’s answers with curiosity, not snark. Believe me, snark doesn’t work. I tried it for a few years without any success.

The Agile community accepts that customers don’t know what they want so we deliver sooner to help them figure that out.

That is exactly the stance we should be taking with organizations that ask for Agile. They don’t really know what they want, they just know something isn’t working right and they want to do *something*. Your job is to help them figure out that something by meeting them where they’re at, exploring possibilities, poking them out of their comfort zone, but ultimately letting them decide.

To tonight’s change managers (and change managers all over the world): Go to this meet-up or find other Agile meet-ups in your area and start going to them. Read this book, this book and this book. Agile people, don’t leave me comments about how old those books are and that there are better ones. These are foundational books that explain ‘Agile’ very well to people who are new to it.

After you’ve read those books, start (or start attending) the Agile communities of practices, or guilds, or centre of excellences or whatever exists in your organization. Become the champion for Agile and help your teams that crawling inside their bubble learn what Agile is.

Don’t attack the Agile people because you saw a rogue team in your organization!

To last night’s Agile folks (and agile folks all over the world): Go to this meet-up or find other local change professionals meet-ups to go to. Go read this book, and this book and this book.

Remember the last time you had a change forced on you? Yeah, that’s what people in the organization you’re working with are going through, and a lot of the time it isn’t all that fun.

To both groups: When you’re done with those books, host a meet-up about those books and invite everybody!

It’s interesting to sit between these two communities and see how unbelievably far apart we are despite being agents of change that are really after the same thing.

The gap isn’t going to shrink as long as we continue to stand on the top rung of opposite ladders yelling at each other and calling each other stupid, or lazy.

Bridging the gap starts with one, small and easy step and the only person who can make it happen is you.